Never before in human history has there been such a wealth of knowledge that has allowed man to contemplate the great panoply of mysteries and miracles including: The origin of God—The Universe—Life and Human Spirituality. Anthropologists agree that the first, faint stirrings of human spirituality began about 100,000 years ago. Perhaps this is why anthropologist Loren Eiseley wrote in The Immense Journey:
“The story of Eden is a greater allegory than man has ever guessed. For it was man walking memoryless through bars of sunlight and shade in the morning of the world, sat down and passed a wondering hand across his heavy forehead. Time and darkness, knowledge of good and evil have walked with him ever since.”
Eiseley is tacitly describing the origin of human values, consciousness and free will and not so tacitly suggesting that modern men (including scientists) still have very little understanding of their origin.
He leaves us with two tantalizing mysteries.
- When was the “light” turned on in human beings?
- Who were the first humans with a soul?
Is it not logical to assume that, before the emergence of “consciousness,” our ancestors were totally controlled by instinctive behavior? The mere fact that millions of life forms have succeeded for approximately four billion years by instinctive behavior suggests that there was no need for consciousness or self-awareness. In other words, there was no need for modern man to evolve.
Maya Angelou wrote:
“We delight in the beauty of the butterfly, but rarely admit the changes it has gone through to achieve that beauty.”
If people are reluctant to acknowledge the changes every butterfly must go through, perhaps it is because they simply cannot fathom the billions of cellular/molecular modifications involved. They are not alone.
Just as anthropologists are at a loss to explain the symbolic (and spiritual) importance of the Eden story, trained entomologists are basically clueless about the controlling biochemical process of butterfly metamorphosis.
In simple terms, after the moth spins a cocoon or the butterfly secrets a chrysalis, the larvae “dissolve” themselves into a cellular/molecular “soup.” All of the larval structures are dismantled and molecule-by-molecule reassembled into a moth or butterfly.
As a biological process this may be extraordinary, but it does not threaten us. However, when metamorphosis is used as a metaphor for spiritual growth, it can become absolutely terrifying and reason enough for us to not welcome the changes necessary to achieve a higher awareness.
It should not surprise us to note that the words metamorphosis and metaphor are similar. Metamorphosis= ‘transform, change shape,’ and metaphor= transfer the meaning of a word into a figure of speech.
In a classic Gospel story, Nicodemus understood the potential value of being spiritually reborn, but was understandably confused by the logistics. In a childlike manner he asked Jesus if he was supposed to reenter his mother’s womb in order to be reborn.
I find this fascinating because human childbirth just may be the closest example of metamorphosis, whereby each infant leaves a “marine ecosystem” and becomes an air-breathing land mammal. Little wonder it is called, “The Miracle of Life,” and why females all over the world (regardless of race, religion or ethnicity) may share an innate awareness of human spirituality.
Intriguingly, R.W. Emerson (1803), Henry Thoreau (1817), and John Muir (1838) were born within 35 years of each other. Following the lead of Plato and Immanuel Kant, they all became literary giants who championed the emergent spiritual philosophy of Human Transcendence. In an interesting paradox, transcendentalism proposes that in order to become fully human, people must “transcend” their physical and mental limitations in order to be “reborn.”
Emerson, Thoreau and Muir all believed that contemplating nature, especially wilderness areas, was a healthy pathway to seek “born again” experiences.
Either that, or perhaps taking a cue from Maya Angelou’s metaphorical butterflies and mustering up the courage to become “spiritual soup,” and embrace the changes that we must undergo to become more sensitive, enlightened beings.